From Whence He Came
Once upon a time a young man sat down at a card table in his old room in his parents's home and using his grandmother's L.C. Smith typewriter began writing a novel. The title came first. It was Hot Like Bread and Pepper. It came from a Chester Burnett tune, "Howling for My Darling." The first line: "She's hot like bread and pepper/Sweet like cherry wine." His grandmother, who he highly respected, drank cherry wine every night before she went to bed. His father, on the other hand, loved bread and pepper, little hot peppers wrapped in a slice of white bread, dipped in vinegar. He wanted the main character in this novel developing in his head to be a man. "Sweet like cherry wine" was feminine. He determined that, so the title became Hot Like Bread and Pepper due to his father being a man, which he determined, too.
He typed the title page, inserted it in a manila folder captioned "The Novel," slipped a blank page in the L.C. Smith and began to think about his opening line. "It was 6 o'clock in the morning," he typed, "and the sun was just coming up directly up from the highway running directly in front of him, that being-born sun shooting its morning yawned rays blindingly in his eyes...." Too wordy, he thought. He tried again: "It was 6 o'clock in the morning when he noticed a strange sound coming from under the hood of his new Packard 6 business coupe. It got worse as he kept driving. He was coming to a town. But, heck, he thought, there aren't even any lights on their water tower so surely there's not going to be a Packard dealer in whatever this spot in the road is. He chugged the Packard into the edge of the small town. He saw the city limits sign. 'The City of Fate/Pop. 400.' Then the Packard started sputtering. He cut the engine and coasted the car as far as he could. It came to a stop right in front of the 'City of Fate Church of God, Pastor Lorraine Lorraine'...." And thus began this young man's attempt at the novel.
The man driving that Packard 6 business coupe in the opening sentence of that novel is later revealed to be a G.R. Wolfe, a salesman for the Miracle Foods Products Co. of Fort Worth, Texas.
Chester Burnett was of course mostly only known in those days as The Howlin' Wolf. "Howling for My Darling" was the tune that identified the reason for the Howlin' Wolf's howling. A woman. Of course. A woman who was "hot like bread and pepper/and sweet like cherry wine." Suddenly to this young writer THAT woman was Lorraine Lorraine, the pastor of the City of Fate Church of God. G.R. Wolfe, a white salesman of something called Miracle Food Products, finds himself in the City of Fate. He's in a "stuck" situation. His new Packard automobile has crashed on him in this city that so far as he's seen has an unlighted water tower and a white frame church right at the side of the highway. It hit this young writer, G.R. Wolfe being white needs to conflict with a woman who is "hot like bread and pepper" and also "sweet like cherry wine" and since by then this young white novelist was already converted to the blues-idiom, this woman, Lorraine Lorraine, had to be a Black woman.
This young writer started off on this novel journey naive, fascinated by the thought of writing a novel but dumb as to how to write a novel. He was steeped in Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Dreiser, D.H. Lawrence, John O'Hara, Gertrude Stein but he didn't want to write like them. He found it easy to copycat; to imitate. "The road led down into the shadows made by the elm trees bent from age out over the spot where they had been growing for hundreds of years. And past those shadows and deep into the darkness in the middle of which was the Black River and that particular bend he knew that was hidden down there, where the trout were oldtimers some in there going over 2 pounds easy...." He tried to write like Hemingway but it bored him and didn't feel like him. His reality was totally different from Hemingway's. He tried to write like Gertrude Stein. He flew the words across the page, "Sending some sons out into the world, some sons like some sons and some sons like other sons, all sons being sons one way or another, though one son can be an only son in a family of sons when sent out into the world." That was fun but unrewarding in terms of his reason for being a writer. A "had to" writer. The urge to write was like a baby wanting to be born in his solar plexus. Once he got that Packard stopped dead in front of that church, he put Miles Davis's "Walkin'" on his record player, the Richard Carpenter composition Miles turned into a 20-minute performance piece on an early Prestige 10-inch Long Playing record, with Mr. P.C. on bass, Klook on drums, Horace Silver on piano, Lucky Thompson on tenor, and with that wailing away over his hi-fi speakers, he started writing...machinegun writing...following the steady 4/4 drive of "Walkin'"--drivin' and cookin' and soon the characters started cookin' and the narrative started jivin' and he wrote as though with a daemon on his shoulder and not a benevolent muse like sat on Kipling's shoulder--a writing daemon, possessing him. He became so involved with G.R. Wolfe, he started creating G.R. Wolfe characters in all his writing. The first short story he wrote involved G.R. Wolfe in Mexico City at a party where a gang of Gays are planning to murder one of their friends--Wolfe becomes a spirit in this story. He's there but he's not really there. He's at a Gay party and there's a complicated reason, and that reason then turned into a novel he called Rosalind --a strange novel where G.R. Wolfe has a traveling troupe of troubadours that roam around Northern Mexico near the US border. The main attraction of this show is Rosalind. Rosalind is of course one of the most beautiful women ever conceived by a writer. Her conflict? She has powers to heal people; yet she's dying of cancer and is unable to heal herself. Rosalind makes a strange request of G.R. Wolfe--she wants him to take her to the shores of this huge lake in the middle of a Northern Mexico nowhere, a lake situated on a Sun's anvil, and there let her sit in the blazing sun writing revelations while the cancer eats her finally alive--she dies there and the idea is to leave her body there to let the sun cook her flesh off her bones leaving her bleached skeleton as a sacred object. As she dies you see a strong light develops around her--a blazing reflection of the Sun and right then and there in the narrative she becomes Saint Rosalind. G.R. Wolfe then proceeds to develop a religion around Saint Rosalind's sacred bones.
The adventures of G. R. Wolfe develops. The young writer goes into fits of whirlwind writing. He writes a novel about a group of robotic humans who go around judging hotels and restaurants for this travel guide service. G.R. Wolfe shows up in this one as the Creator--the developer of these automatons, of these "raters," as their job descriptions call them. G.R. Wolfe decides to see if he can pair up his male robots with his female robots and see if he can't make them as realistic as possible to the point where they have real sex and actually one of his female robots gets pregnant! A robot pregnancy! A real human fetus but in a robot womb! G.R. Wolfe is creating life from automaton reproductions.
The writer began to confuse himself with this character, G.R. Wolfe. This writer began to go under several identities, each one intended to be a character in whatever next piece of writing he had to write. He became one name. Then another name. Then he used initials and became a whole other person. He became a woman poet one day when he wrote a poem about a Persian carpet having a baby--a baby being born out of its abstract design. Elizabeth Raintree Mitchell was his female name. He as she was published multiple times in a small poetry journal called Scar and Scimitar with the editor begging for more to the point he had to sadly write back in answer to one request that Elizabeth Raintree Mitchell had disappeared while on a trip to South America with the famous poet and romantic guitarist Pedro Maldonado.
The young novelist himself disappeared into the pits of New York City one day in the early 1970s. G.R. Wolfe stayed hiding out within the tons of manuscripts scattered haphazardly around the floor of the novelist's downtown New York City loft. Soon the gathering up off that floor became an emergency after one day he was "bought out" of his lease to the loft by his landlord, who in a friendly way handed him a check for $2000, which with his back to the landlord's brick wall he accepted. It was when he then asked the landlord how long he had to find a new place and get all his stuff out of there and into storage somewhere that the friendly landlord did a turn around on him and told him in no uncertain terms he had until Monday morning, it was Friday evening, to get himself and his shit the fuck out of HIS building. "I've already got your loft rented, to a young lawyer who's payin' me three times what you're paying later and later every month. So if you aren't out by Monday morning, I'm having the city marshall throw you out." The novelist turned and growled like a crazed animal--he barked--he growled--at this landlord who had once been his pal but was now tossing his ass out into the hot summer New York City streets, putting him and his "shit," as the landlord referred to it, in the gutter. He would be homeless! After his growling was quieted, he called his only hope. Oh no! A WOMAN! The woman who by then was known around the neighborhood as his female companion, as his lover, as his "wife" some of them rumored. He shriveled as a man when he had to ask this woman to rescue him from his dilemma--like to let him borrow her car--then to let him take his shit up to her place and store it up there until he found another loft--and then, well, hell, could he camp out at her place himself until...? She agreed to everything. They had fun moving him. They rented a U-Haul trailer and hooked it onto her car and then they picked up some boxes and they came back to his loft with a bottle of champagne and some salad makings and some Mexican cigarettes (handrolled or mezzrolled) and they partied as they packed his stuff--his records, his books, his art, his Persian rug, his glassware--and he gathered all those tons of manuscripts up off the floor--a rough draft of the original incompleted Hot Like Bread and Pepper; the 700-page typed copy of Rosalind; a bound draft of the completed novella about the robot hotel and restaurant raters, which he titled The Tripellian Sonata, Max Tripellian being the main character's robot name, he's a Maximum-Tripellian Model 3000 human-like robot--while the name Max uses as a hotel and restaurant rater is, what else, G. R. Wolfe, Jr. (becoming his father's (G.R. Wolfe the robot creator) only son). And Max as G.R. Wolfe, Jr., becomes so expert a rater he gets a column in a national travel magazine. What's his pseudonym as a columnist? Why: The Growling Wolfe!
Cute story, right? It's not easy to have to come back into reality after having been reidentifying myself at least once a year for the past god-knows-how-many decades--in fact, it is stultifying...yes, I like that word for the problem that lies unsolved before me. It's like "Retroflection" in Gestalt Psychology--"a sudden turning on one's self and relooking at it--challenging it, especially in terms of balancing it." Using retroflection we see ourselves as either "the doers" or "the done to." Am I an actor holding to a persona? I ask my Self. Yes, of course I'm an actor like we all are actors comes the answer. But, I argue back, I'm a writer not an actor. An actor only in the sense I'm acting as though I think a writer should act. I'm acting as a writer. I'm following a narrative, yes! Yes, I am. But stepping out of my novels and into what, reality, the existential world, is frightening because I feel so naked and ashamed in reality. And, by the way, Existentialism is the only human philosophy that makes sense to me in terms of human beings needing a philosophy--read Sartre, I tell my students in the Grove--but nobody reads Sartre anymore, I imagine, do they?
One of our "only" commenters on this blog--this fictional place--is who we call thewomantrumpetplayer --and I was out with a friend the other night and that friend suddenly said, "Why wouldn't you want to meet that Woman Trumpet Player? She sounds hot, man." I had no idea this man had ever read this blog. And I had never told him I was a main contributor and icon for this blog (under pressure from my small, small cluster of tied-together-by-time friends who know so many of my realities for real).
I am inspired to be various characters by especially musicians I have known and worked with; and also by the truly wise geniuses I've had the luck of attracting and haranguing with over many a glass or pint--BUT, especially by the oh-so many beautiful women I have as a not-so-beautiful man attracted over my life. And I've fallen flat--head over heels-- for 5 exotically beautiful women in my time, each alike, each a same sort of, each fine-tuned in the practical, drop-of-a-hat smart, highly sexual but cynical in terms of love, cynical in terms of romance, cynical in terms of trusting males, highly competitive women but unfortunately procrastinators just like me. To those five women, I've been five different people. To one I was a very young wild-living published poet who loved to party and who played the piano at parties like George Gershwin used to play the piano at parties and charm the ladies. To another one I was a young blue-eyed-blond man just out of the US Army, weighing 150 pounds, solid as a rock, with charm to burn, and gullible as hell when it came to being madly in love and desiring a woman who could only toy with me since she was married to a guy I was close enough to and friends enough with to go down to death in a battle royal situation defending him. To the third I was the romantic prince who with one long stare into her deep dark-welled brown eyes captured her being--and she became "mine"--and though I left her with her husband and came to New York City with my wife, when this one heard I was divorced then I became her prize--the introduction to one of the great love stories in my life. To the fourth one I was who I really am and she took advantage of knowing me that way and became yet another novel figure in my life, this one one who is still in my life though she's off on an adventure of her own at the moment and hasn't been around in three months though I know the minute I think it's over and I'm free as a bird--BAM--she's back again with love in her burning black eyes! The fifth one sees me as a total fantasy...this one is my secret love--I dare not even write a fictional story about her--she has never appeared in any form in any Growler episode. This one, though I'm a fantasy to her, is the real one to me.
Confusion of identities. How can a creator of characters and narratives not get hung up in his creations? They are his Holy Spirits--his moons orbiting his world. Who am I? I cry. I ask people who think they know me who I am and they look at me like "Duh?" "You don't know who you are? Don't bother me then, buddy, you need to go see a shrink. Or maybe you need to be reborn."
I really am thegrowlingwolf as I write this. I am in character now. Right now. And here's how this fabulous reality affects what I'm babbling about. To me, right now (a continuing present being transcribed to text for posterity's sake), thewomantrumpetplayer is a character who has played her way onto the continuing-present-tense cosmic space that this blog is meant to be...as if being a blog isn't enough. STOP. PAUSE (or PAWS). Why not, like Aram Saroyan published blank-page poetry, post a blank-page blog every day? Call it, let's say, "Whatever You Want This to Be." Staring at the blank pages and receiving revelations! I am spinning off into a tangent. WRACK! (a Bugs Bunny expression). I stop in my tangential tracks.
thewomantrumpetplayer approached this blog as a real person while accidentally one day reading the, what was it, 36 chapters?, novel I decided to speed write a couple of years ago while sitting around the The Daily Growler office getting pissed off about how the real estate developer hogs had just about decimated a downtown Manhattan neighborhood we nonconformist New Yorkers in those days called BloHo (Below Houston) (below Houston Street down to Canal Street; east boundary Hudson Street; west boundary the West Side Highway), a neighborhood that at that time housed most of the advancing art movement in this city; it housed most of the avant garde musicians, performance artists, painters, poets, writers, phonies and dilettantes in this city (late 1960s until early 1980s) and it housed the fabulous, then, Ear Inn--still standing, still the Ear Inn, still notorious, but sandwiched between two tacky overmodern unmodern hi-rise luxury apartment buildings and now put on the "swells" list of hangouts with a salable and a developable history, coopted now by the people who eventually inhabit these hi-rise luxury plastic-glass (Plexiglas) towers that are built into exclusivity so the rich can live ultra-high-rise (they are "rising" up toward the heavens like the gods they think they are) high above the neighborhoods they decimated so they can have the privilege of living in exclusive and guarded comfort their lives of luxury (wasted time and money) isolated from those who they've deprived of workplaces and homes. Lofts were perfect spaces for artists of all types and that neighborhood had art (painters and sculptors) lofts, dance lofts, arts rehearsal lofts, performance lofts, party lofts, music lofts, living lofts--but then along came the wealthy--"Hey, these artists have made this prime real estate...let's develop it into a tourist trap--we'll make a fortune quick and easy." And that's what that novel was about--One Spring Morning Off Spring Street--it was titled. It was meant to be fiction based on Lester Bangs the rock critic suddenly showing up in New York City from Detroit and suddenly interfering in the life of us artists and arteests who made the Ear Inn the meeting place for those with evolving ideas for a new culture, a culture created in former factory buildings--factory lofts. This speed-written novel was meant to be a story of that era. I tried not to use real names--I even tried to disguise some of these characters who were already characters on their own stages when I met them and hung out with them and created with them. And out of all the people who said they read those posts, only thewomantrumpetplayer recognized it as real because she just happened to know one of the "main" characters in it and though I didn't use this character's real name, I did use his "real" stage name as a rock drummer in a never-really-made-it-rock-band whose real name I used, and I did run a promo photograph of this band with this drummer in it and so yes she easily identified this guy as a guy she'd known in college, blah, blah, blah--these stories can go on forever--and that's their intention really.
So, how do I step out of this blog character and become a "real" person and meet and greet and socialize as though I am a real person with someone real like thewomantrumpetplayer who is a real person who everybody knows is Marybeth?--most Growler readers (don't laugh; we have a lot of "secret" readers) know her as Marybeth.
I love such complications. That's why I have to solve my problems whether fictional or not by writing them into continuing-present episodes--blog posts! I live within this blog as thegrowlingwolf--I don't want to suddenly be someone named say Chris Brown, or Cad Redd, or Mack White, or Envious Green, Chalky Yellow, Matt Mauve, or how about, Jack Black? (Did you ever consider that the actor Jack Black got his stage name from some Hollywood exec drunk on Jack Daniels Black Label?)
What if I met you and I hated you?--or you hated me?
Who am I?
I think even if you know you don't know.
for The Daily Growler